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5 \ 

A DAIRY MAIO ■P"!'* ^^ 



























Containing 37 foil-page illustrations m 



SoHO Square, London, W. 














HISTORY - - - - I 

11. THE SAGAS — ^THE SKALDS - - 6 






S- IN ICELAND - - - - 42 

IX, NAMES — LANGUAGE - - - 48 


XI. SURTUR'S CAVE - " . * 59 

— CONCLUSION - - - 66 











Sketch-Map of Iceland on page viii 


M.A,W, FronHspitct 


M. C, I.L,- 9 

M, C. /. L. and 
M. A. W, - 


M. C. I, L. - 


M. C. L L, ' 


M, C, I. L. and 

M, A. W. - 

M, A, W. 


M. A, W. 


M. A, IV, 


M. A, IV, 


M, A, W, 


M. C. I. L, and 
M. A. W. - 



T I 

O C ^ . ,,^g 

'^ T I C 






How large is Iceland? People often ask 
this question, and sometimes they think 
Iceland is quite a small island, something 
like the Isle of Wight ! whereas it is one- 
fifth larger than Ireland, and you take quite 
two days, after sighting land, to steam dong 
the south and south-west coasts to the 
landing-place at Reykjavik, the capital. 

Iceland lies far out in the north. Your 
geography books will tell you its latitude 
is 63-66 N., and longitude 13-24 W. ; the 
North Sea or Arctic Ocean bounds it on the 
north-east and west sides, and joins the 

ic I 


Atlantic, which washes its southern shores. 
And there is nearly always a roughish bit 
of sea to get through where these two 
mighty oceans meet 

The island was first discovered by a sea- 
roving chieftain named Nadodd in the ninth 
century. He had been sailing in the North 
Sea and among the Faroe Isles, and he 
came on his voyage within sight of this 
great unknown land. It looked very cold, 
and the snow was down to the water's edge. 
He does not seem to have done much more 
than land there, however, but gave it the 
name of Snceland, which means Snowland, 
and went back south again. The first real 
settlers were called Ingolf and Hjorleif. 
They were Norwegian chiefs who had 
quarrelled with their king, Harald, who 
was very tyrannical ; and so they left 
Norway and sailed in search of a new home 
in A.D. 874. They were heathens in those 
days, and always carried about the pillars of 
their houses, which were sacred to their 
gods. They drew near at length to Iceland, 
and when approaching the shore, they cast 
their sacred pillars into the sea ; and where 

Discovery and Early History 

the tide washed the pillars to shore, there they 
landed and began to establish themselves. 
As you steam along the coast now you see 
two great headlands, called Ingolfshofdi 
and Hjorleifshofdi, which are supposed to 
be where those chiefs landed. Hofdi means 
a " headland " in Icelandic. 

These two settlers were followed by 
many more, but it must have taken long 
years before the colonists were fully estab- 
lished. Gradually, however, they spread 
and multiplied in the new country. There 
is an old history in Iceland called the 
** Landnama B6k," which means " the book 
of the takers of land," and gives their names 
and the districts where they settled. But 
we do not hear of any earlier inhabitants ; 
so the Icelanders now are of Norwegian 
origin, descended from some of the greatest 
families in Norway. Many of these sea- 
faring chiefs were called vikings, and are 
spoken of by us as **sea-kings." "Viking,*' 
however, does not mean any sort of king, 
but is derived from the word ** vik,'* which 
means a creek, because these seamen, who 
were more like what we now call pirates, 
3 I-— 2 


used to put into the creeks or bays, and 
thence land and make raids into the near 
country and carry ofF prisoners and booty 
to their ships. 

Of course in those days they were all 
heathen, and worshipped a number of gods 
— Odin and Thor, and Freya, and Loki, 
and Baldur — ^whose names you meet with 
in old English histories, as they were 
common to the Anglo-Saxon and Nor- 
wegian and Danish peoples, and also to 
some of the German countries. But first 
of all an Icelander who had travelled abroad 
was converted to Christianity in the south, 
and he brought home with him a Saxon 
bishop, to convert his fellow-countrymen. 
The Icelander was named Thorvald, " the 
Far-travelled. " A good many of the natives 
were converted, but Christianity was not 
fully established till a.d. iooi, when it 
became the law of the land, and the first 
bishop was elected and sent abroad to be 
consecrated. His name was Isleif. 

A long line of bishops followed, some of 
them very good and holy men. The 
greatest is generally held to be Thorlak, 

Discovery and Early History 

who was called Saint Thorlak after his 
death. His name has some interest for us, 
as when he was young he was sent to study 
at Lincoln, in our own country. 

It would take too long to tell you of all 
the different changes that passed over the 
country as time went on. There was never 
a king of Iceland : the chiefe ruled their 
own country, but were more or less subject 
to the kings of Norway. They had a Par- 
liament, and their greatest man there was 
called " the Law-speaker." The bishops, 
too, obtained great power, and were almost 
like little kings ; but there was often much 
civil dissension and quarrelling. Later the 
country passed, with Norway, under the 
Danish rule, and though Norway became 
separate again, Iceland has never done so, 
but is still reckoned a part of the Danish 
kingdom. With Danish rule Lutheranism 
became, and is still, the established religion 
of the country. 



I THINK everyone who knows anything of 
Iceland has heard at least of the sagas. 
The word " saga " means story — a story of 
any kind, history or fiction ; but when 
we speak of the sagas, we always mean 
those wonderful old tales which have been 
handed down for generations, first by word 
of mouth as the countryfolk used to sit 
round the fire on the long winter evenings 
and listen to the story-teller, then in later 
times they were committed to writing, and 
so have been preserved to the present day. 
They are generally the lives and adven- 
tures of particular persons or families, but 
the same characters are named in different 
sagas, and the dates are often carefully 
given, agreeing with other dates in 

The Sagas — The Skalds 

European history ; so that, although they 
are very curious, and often contain a good 
deal that may be considered merely 
legendary, no one can read them without 
feeling sure that the main features of the 
stories are the real history of Iceland. 

One of the greatest of these stories is 
the Njala, which has been beautifully trans- 
lated for us by Sir George Dasent. It 
tells the history of a great and wise and 
good chieftain called Njal, which is much 
the same name as the Irish or Scotch " Neil.** 
He was a very peaceful, mild man, but he 
lived in a fierce and unquiet time, and he 
had a number of sons who gave him a 
great deal of sorrow and trouble, and 
eventually brought about his death and 
their own in a shocking manner. In those 
days there was a custom that, if a man were 
murdered — if he were of any importance — 
his relatives and friends took up what was 
called the blood-feud, and did not rest till 
he was avenged by the slaying of his foes. 
This custom lasted even after the people 
had become Christians. It happened that 
a wicked murder had been committed 


through Njal's sons* jealousy, and the 
family of the murdered man took up the 
blood-feud. It was carried on for a long 
time, but at last the foes of Njal's family 
hunted down their victims till they took 
refuge in their own house. Having sur- 
rounded it, the avengers determined to set 
fire to it ; but first they offered Njal, who 
was then an old man, leave to go out and 
save himself. This, however, he refused 
to do, as he considered it shameful to live 
on after his sons were slain. Then they 
bade his wife come out, as they did not 
wish that she should be burnt indoors; 
but she refused to leave her husband. 
They had a young grandson with them, 
and him they would have saved ; but he 
clung to the old people, and would not 
go out. So the three laid themselves 
down on their bed, and were suffocated 
in the fumes of the burning house. The 
three sons of Njal were all stifled or 
crushed by the falling beams, and the only 
soul that escaped was Kari, NjaFs son-in- 
law. He jumped out through the burning 
rafters, and fled away. I have been to the 

. ui^LiCLIBRAR" 


The Sagas— The Skalds 

place where these things happened, and I 
was shown a litde hollow in the grass 
which was said to have been once a pool, 
where Kari put out the fire in his clothes. 

Kari, of course, took up the task of 
avenging his father-in-law's death, and 
went through many adventures. At last, 
many years after, Flosi, the chief of Njal's 
murderers, was shipwrecked and cast ashore 
just below Kari's house. He and his men 
went and sought shelter there, though it 
might have been supposed that Kari would 
have little mercy to show to his long- 
sought enemy. But Kari said he could 
not take vengeance on a shipwrecked 
man, and he gave Flosi welcome and 
shelter after all; thus these bitter and 
implacable foes were reconciled at last. 

I think if good old Njal could have 
known this, it would have made him very 
happy that the sad quarrel was ended so ; 
for he had been one of the first to become 
a Christian, and he met his fate with 
Christian courage and meekness. 

It would take too long to tell you even 
the names of all the wonderful sagas. 

ic 92 


,f Grcttir, the strong 

^e is the story ot ^^ ^^^^^ ^he 

•:ian Icelandic Sa^- ^^e world's 

,^.,andHe.n«-K^-|^;^ our own 

*=>^ ' "^^ I wre very much m«ed 
• ^ey Isles, which are ve y ^^^ 

,ops' sagas, the htstoiT ^^^ ^^^ly 

ion of Iceland, and the g^.^^^^^^, 

vrho were her 

y- ,^tprs Iceland pos- 

a « n"""*" ° ,'^°L™ warrior was a 
^Ider da,, n«-lr^^,, «.„g, o» 
^, and used to extern^ ^^ 

" --n haZ-etltl m praise 


^s Insulting ^ong'llS, too, Ice- 
^^-•/'^t^:^ na^ed'Hallgrim 

^ had poets oj^^' " ^^ 3a„»e time 
-^rsson. who hved at the ^^_ 

:^ John Milton. ^r°^,^f ' Vprlxed 

^ iacred P-t^' ^^^d .o'adays the 
the people still, /^^j/read among 
of poetry IS very k^^^P^.^^^i,,en 
Icelanders, and a great oeax 



There is the story of Grettir, the strong 
man — an Icelandic Samson ; and Gisli the 
outlaw ; and Heims-Kringla, the world's 
history ; and a saga about our own 
Orkney Isles, which are very much mixed 
up with old Icelandic history ; and the 
Bishops' sagas, the history of the first con- 
version of Iceland, and the good and holy 
men who were her first bishops and 

Besides the saga writers, Iceland pos- 
sessed a number of poets called " skalds.'* 
In older days nearly every warrior was a 
skald, and used to extemporize songs on 
all occasions. Sometimes they were to 
incite men to battle, sometimes in praise 
of noble deeds or beautiful ladies ; some- 
times insulting songs were made upon 
enemies. In the Middle Ages, too, Ice- 
land had poets ; one, named Hallgrim 
Petursson, who lived at the same time 
with John Milton, wrote some very beau- 
tiful sacred poetry, which is much prized 
by the people still. And nowadays the 
gift of poetry is very largely spread among 
the Icelanders, and a great deal is written 


The Sagas — The Skalds 

and published in the island. One of the 
most famed of living skalds is Matthias 
Jochumsson, who is very well known by 
his countrymen as a writer of verse. 
There are Steingrim Jonsson, Einar Bene- 
diktsson, Thorvald Erlingsson, and many 
more names ; and Valdemar Briem, the 
pastor-poet, who has written a very large 
collection of sacred poems, psalms, hymns, 
and memorial verses, some of them of a 
very beautiful character indeed. 

II 2 — 2 



The Iceland of to-day is not very unlike 
that of the saga times. The island is so 
far removed from other countries, so cut 
off by its isolated position, that modern 
inventions and improvements come to it 
very slowly, and many have not yet reached 
it. The absence of them, though it may 
seem strange to us, yet helps to keep the 
wonderful simplicity, hospitality, and hardi- 
ness of the country and its folk, which 
make the great charm of Iceland to most 
strangers who visit it. 

When you first see Iceland from the 
steamer that takes you there, it is usually 
a little bit of a high mountain, the Vatna 
JokuU, that appears to you as if in the 
clouds. The word " jokuU " means a glacier 




Iceland To-day — Reykjavik 

or ice-field, where the snow never melts. 
Many of the jokulls are volcanoes as well. 
Is it not curious to think of fiery pits 
underneath all that cold, unmelting snow 
and ice ? Yet many of the volcanoes have 
erupted in the past, and desolated all the 
country around for miles and miles. Very 
few of them are still active. 

As you steam along, the beautiful island 
gradually opens out, and you see more and 
more ice-fields : the Myrdals, a great 
smooth white mountain ; the Eyjafell, 
which runs far out to sea ; and presently 
you see Hekla, usually with some snow on 
it ; which last is the best-known and latest 
active volcano here, and is often the only 
name that English people know in Iceland. 
Before landing we come to some pretty 
rocky islands called the Westmanns. Only 
one is inhabited. If the boat stops, as it 
usually does, for mails, you have a chance 
to land on the island, or to visit in a small 
boat a wonderful cave in the rocks, quite 
high and deep. The islands swarm with 
puffins, which fly out screaming if they are 



When you come into Reykjavik Bay — 
which is called Faxafjord — ^the steamer 
anchors a good way from shore, and you 
have to get with your luggage into a small 
row-boat, and are landed at a little wooden 
pier, of which there are many in the 

And then — no cabs, no buses, no 
hurrying to catch a train, but your luggage 
is put on a hand-barrow, and you walk off 
to your hotel, just a stone's-throw from 
the wharf. 

When I first knew Reykjavik it was a 
tiny little fishing-town, with funny old 
houses and stores, and shops like a very 
small Scotch village " merchant's *' ; now 
it is spreading in all directions. But nearly 
all the houses are built of wood and iron, 
with just a stone foundation, and very 
funnily they build them, up and down 
and across and alongside — by no means in 
straight rows, except here and there. They 
are all of different heights, too, and some of 
them seem standing on tiptoe to look over 
their neighbours' heads. 

The streets are very quiet for a town, 

Iceland To-day — Reykjavik 

but there are more carts and little pony 
carriages every year. But the chief sound 
is the trot, trot, trot of the dear little 

f ponies ! The prettiest feature of the town 

is the number of ponies ; round every 

^ corner, in every backyard, wherever there 

is a scrap of green grass, and often where 
there is not, ponies are to be seen. Most 
of them are very pretty, and every colour 
is to be met with. Every man, woman, 

^ and child, old or young, rides in Iceland ; 

I in most places it is the only way of getting 

I about, and the usual way even where there 

are wheel roads. 

The Icelanders are very kind to their 
ponies, though they work them hard ; and 
the ponies are generally willing and very 
patient, and they stand quite quiet where- 
ever their masters leave them. The men 
pull the reins over their heads, and let 
them hang down in the dusty road, and 
then the ponies know they are to stand 
still and wait, and they do so for hours. 

The principal buildings in Reykjavik are 
the Cathedral, which looks more like an old- 
fashioned, veryplain parish church than what 




we call a cathedral ; the Parliament House, 
which is a large square stone building ; 
the National Bank, which also contains the 
Museum at present ; the "Latin School," 
and another large new schoolhouse, where 
the King of Denmark was entertained on 
a recent visit. Behind the town is a small 
lake, which looks very pretty with the 
reflections of the buildings near it and the 
beautiful purple hills behind. I have seen 
lovely sunsets at Reykjavik. In summer 
the days are very long ; in June there is 
really no night : the sun sets for about ten 
minutes at midnight, and then rises again. 
In the north of the island, where it touches 
the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set at 
all for a day or two. Of course in winter 
the days are proportionately short, and 
there are only three hours of daylight; 
but the nights are very beautiful, with 
moon and starlight, and the aurora borealis, 
or northern light. I have seen the latter 
even in August, when the nights are 
beginning to darken ; it is very beautiful, 
like a white flame reaching quite across 
the sky. 




. .■.L-.W YO.^K 




Iceland To-day — Reykjavik 

Iceland is a very quiet, law-abiding 
country, and though there is a prison in 
Reykjavik, there are hardly ever any 
prisoners. There used to be only two 
policemen in Reykjavik. They walked 
about the town in dark uniforms, looking 
rather like tin soldiers. Now there are 
a few more, as the town has increased so 
much ; but there is very little crime, 
Iceland has no army or navy, but is under 
the protection of Denmark. 

ic 17 



There are no railways in Iceland. The 
people are beginning to make more roads 
now, and to some of the principal towns 
you can drive in a little carriage ; but for 
all ordinary journeys and travelling ex- 
cursions you must ride the ponies. And 
this is what makes Icelandic travelling so 
unlike any other sort of travelling, and 
gives it much of its charm. 

You would think it great fun starting 
on a journey, when the ponies are all 
collected and the boxes packed. You have 
to put all you want in a little wooden 
pack — ^the Icelanders call it a " kofFort " — 
and one of these is hooked on either side 
of the pony's pack-saddle. The boxes 
must be fairly equal in weight, or the load 


keeps shifting. When the pack-pony is 
loaded with his two boxes, and perhaps a 
bundle of wraps in the middle, he looks 
a very funny figure. The pony is very 
patient while his load is being strapped 
and corded on ; then he waddles off at a 
funny little amble, and keeps it up nearly 
all day, except where the road is very 
rough. He climbs over rocks and mounds 
like a cat ; walks up steep hills and down, 
where riders have to dismount, and fords 
rivers, and it is very seldom that he makes 
a slip or meets with an accident. 

Everyone who rides a long journey 
should have a remount to rest the ponies, 
and the packs should also be changed ; so 
that means two ponies to every rider and 
load. The spare ponies run loose, under the 
charge of a man or boy, and look very 
pretty running along the moorland paths. 
After riding two or three hours there is 
halt for refreshment, sometimes at a farm, 
sometimes in the open, but always where 
the ponies can get grass and a drink from 
a stream. It is delightful picnicking on 
the road in the fine weather, but not so 
19 3—2 


pleasant in pouring rain, if you are far 
from a dwelling-house. You are glad to 
sit on your pack-boxes when they are 
taken down, and must make the best of 
it, while the rain-drops pour into your 
meat-tin or cup. Yet it is seldom that 
anyone takes cold or any harm from a 
little " roughing it " in Iceland. 

After a long ride, some eight or ten 
hours, and various halts, you are very 
glad to draw up at the farm where you 
are to sleep. No matter whether you 
have met the inhabitants before or not, 
no matter what time you arrive, the kind, 
good people turn out and bid you welcome 
to the best they have. There is generally 
a nice little " guest-room," like the parlour 
in a small &rm-house at home, and a spare 
bedroom, but they will make up beds in the 
parlour if required. You have nice clean 
sheets and warm down quilts, for the eider- 
ducks are very abundant here. They give 
you very good food, too — nice fresh fish 
if you are near a lake or river, tender 
mutton or lamb, eggs, milk, cream and 
butter, and especially good coffee. Once 


v. ..InKAR\ 

Icelandic Children 

I was put up at a parsonage when the 
^ pastor and his wife were away, and the 

children were our hosts. There were two 
r big boys and three girls, and no children 

could have been kinder or had prettier 
^ manners than these little Icelanders, far 

up in the country. The boys had been 

fishing, and caught a beautiful salmon, 
'^ and they insisted on having it for supper. 

The eldest girl helped their servant to lay 
\^ our table, and the boys were always waiting 

to fetch what we wanted, though they 

never crowded about us or stood staring 
^ at the strangers. No, they behaved like 

perfect little gentlemen and ladies, and 

made us feel as if on a visit to real fHends; 

I have made the acquaintance of many 

;v dear little children in Iceland. My first 

friends were the children of a pastor at 

Thingvellir, thirty miles from Reykjavik, 
-< and as it is the first stage to many places, 

I have stayed with them very often — since 
i Ing3iy the eldest daughter, was a little baby. 

Now she is a tall, clever, usefiil girl, with 
^ two brothers and two sisters, and is her 

mother's right hand. Hermann, the eldest 


Iceland *? 

boy, is a bit of a pickle, but very quick 

and handy ; since he was quite small he ^ 

could do anything with the ponies, and 

loves to take a troop of them to pasture, ' 

or round them up when wanted. Icelandic 

children are very well taught, though there ^ 

are no schools out in the country. Their 

parents teach them a good deal ; also there 

are travelling teachers who go from farm "^ 

to farm. When they grow older they are 

sent to school in Reykjavik, and if the ^ 

boys are destined for a profession they are 

sent to college at Copenhagen. 

The children seem to have a happy 1 

time. Summer is a long holiday, and 
they are out all day, with the cows or the J 

sheep or the ponies, or making hay, or 
gathering wild berries. They have not 
many playthings ; one of their toys is the ^ 

shank-bone of a sheep, called ** leggi," to 
which they tie a bit of rope and pretend >i 

it is a pony. They have games, however, 
something like ours, and I spent a merry A 

evening once, when it rained outside, 
playing " general post " and ** forfeits " / 

with the Thingvellir children, in which j 



Icelandic Children 

their father and mother and another dear 
old friend — a kind big man who loves 
children — joined ; and a very jolly time 
we had, though the "forfeits" were all 
** cried " in Icelandic, and the post " fared " 
from some of the recent stages of our 




I THINK everyone who has heard ot ^ 

Iceland at ail, has connected it with the j 

name of the Gey sir. The word gey sir means ^ 

" gusher," and is applied to the hot springs 

which erupt or throw up jets of water like 

a fountain, as distinct from the hver^ or 

hot springs which merely bubble and 

steam. These are called laugar^ which '< 

means washing-places, as they are often 

so used. i 

One of the most remarkable of these 
places lies about a mile and a half out of i 

Reykjavik, and here all the town's washing ^ 

is done. There is a stream — ^just such as 
is called in Scotland a burn — which flows j 

across the wide open space beyond the 
town ; quite an ordinary stream to look 


The Geysir and Hot Springs 

at, but at . a particular point it jets first 
warm, and then quite scalding hot water, 
always steaming up, and here is the ready- 
made laundry! Some large iron houses 
or sheds have been built beside it, in which 
the ironing and "getting up" is done, 
but all the boiling and cleansing is in the 
natural boiler, some of which is covered 
by iron grating, as a poor woman once 
lost her life by falling in. It is quite a 
i lively scene, when you arrive there, to see 

thirty or forty women, with diiFerent- 
coloured kerchiefs on their heads and their 
petticoats turned up, washing and beating 
and wringing, and chattering all the time, 
^ as merry as possible. There is always the 

unfailing cofFee-pot for refreshment, for 
\ the laundry is thirsty work, and the poor 

^ bodies seem to go on all day long. They 

L take the clothes to and from the laundry 

!| in little hand-carts, which the women 

' draw or push. The washing is very well 

Li done, and the quality of the water and the 

pure air seem to make the clothes very 
white and fresh. 

But to return to the Geysir. Iceland, 
25 4 




being a volcanic country, is full of hot 
springs, which are always steaming up on 
mountain-sides or in the plains, looking 
from far away like the smoke of a distant 
train ; but what people usually mean when 
they ask, " Have you seen the Geysir ?" 
is the famous large boiling fountain in 
the south, about eighty or ninety miles 
from the capital. 

The journey thither is a very pretty one ; 
you cross plains, green with sweet-smell- 
ing birch scrub, having beautiful distant 
views of Hekla and other glacier moun- 
tains; then you turn the shoulder of a 
vast dark chain of hiUs, called the Calf s 
Peaks, on your left, and descend into a 
lovely green valley, where are sometimes 
pretty ponies — mares and foals — grazing 
in flocks. You cross rivers, too, in this 
journey, and one in particular, called the 
Bruar-a, or Bridge River. Shall I tell you 
why? It is a pretty wide, rapid river, 
but very shallow, and in the middle of it 
is a great chasm, into which the water 
falls, roaring, from the level of the ford. 
People rode in across the rocks, and over ] 





The Geysir and Hot Springs 

k the chasm was a little wooden bridge with 

a hand-rail ; the ponies always made for 

i the bridge, and so steady and surefooted 

are they that I never heard of an accident 
happening, though the slightest slip or 

■ swerve at the chasm would be certain death. 

I have crossed in this way many times, and 

. felt quite sorry to have to use the new 

r grand bridge which has been thrown across 

lower down the stream. It seemed to 

I take away all the excitement and pleasure 

you felt in accomplishing the more perilous 

k As you draw near the Geysir district 

the character of the road changes : the 

^ ground becomes dry and flaky, and pre- 

sently you are aware of little pools and 

i. streams under the ponies' feet Many of 

the pools are warm. The Geysir itself — 
the largest — stands in a very bare piece 

f of ground and on a slight rise. The 

I basin is quite round, and looks exactly 

^ like a large artificial fountain, but with a 

very deep crater or cup. Sometimes this 

f is quite empty, and you could stand 

within the rim ; then, again, the water 
27 4—2 


bubbles up, and it gets quite full. But 
if you are lucky enough to see an eruption, 
there is first a rumbling noise, and then 
— stand back ! for the boiling water shoots 
up in a straight jet, sometimes thirty feet 
or more. You must be very careful not 
to stand on the side where the wind would 
blow the falling column upon you. It is 
all over very soon, and nothing but steam 
left in the basin. Besides the great Geysir, 
there are various others all around ; one ^ 

well known, called Strokkur, or the Churn, 
went to sleep some years ago, after some 
earthquakes which took place, but has ^ 

now begun to grow active again. The ^ 

Little Geysir often plays ; I have seen it . i 

looking like a shower of diamonds ; and 
there are several funny pools always , 

bubbling up mud and making noises like 
a sty full of pigs. There are two hot , 

pools: one called Blesi, which means a a 

white-faced horse (** blazie *'), and it is said 
that one was drowned in it once ; and ^ 

another, which broke out after the afore- 
said earthquakes, has been loyally named J 
^* The King's Pool." 1 

^ The Geysir and Hot Springs 

1^ Besides the Geysir in the south, there are 

"^^ some pools nearer the coast, which smoke, 

but do not play like the fountains, and 
> are called Reykir. Several are of beautiful 

colours — blueand salmon-pink, andeach one 
^ different. In the north-west rbute are also 

hot springs, and at a place called Reykholt 
1 is a very curious circular bath which was 

F; made hundreds of years ago by a famous 

man called Snorri. There is a channel by 
I which the water from the hot spring can 

' be turned into the bath or shut out, and 

it is quite in good order. All the hot 
^ water for the church farm is brought from 

these springs. 
Ii Another very wonderful thing I must 

tell you of before we leave the hot springs. 
^ . In a river called Reykjadals-a, which means 

I " steaming-dale's water," there is a little 

mound with a boiling spring in the very 
k middle of the cold water which flows all 

round it. I have ridden close up to it ; 
^ the pony was not afraid, though I should 

' think that any of our English ponies would 

^ shy at such a very unnatural sight. 

y Akin to the hot springs are the sulphur 





springs at Krisuvik, near the south coast. 

You have to cross a very wild barren 

rocky region to get near them. When 

you have nearly reached them you smell 

a strong smell of sulphur, but it is rather I 

like a savoury cooking smell, as of a / 

giant's dinner in preparation. The sulphur 

stream looks very yellow and dirty, and ^ 

steams up, with a strong smell, under the 

cliffs by which it runs. Some years ago | 

an Englishman tried to work the sulphur- . 

mines, but they did not pay, and the work 

is now given up. 







There are very many waterfalls in Ice- 
[^ land, more than I can tell you of in this 

7 little book. Along the south coast are 

the Skogafoss, which is about lOO feet 
^ high, and the Gljufrafoss, which is shut 

in by rocks, and you can ride in behind 
it, quite under the fall. Then there is 
the Gullfoss, or Gold-force ("force" or 
" foss " is still the Cumberland and West- 
morland name for a waterfall), which is 
in a river called the Hvita, or White 
Water, not far from the Geysir. A 
smaller fall in the north-west is called 
k Bamafoss — ^the Children's (Bairns') Force 

r — ^because it is said that two little boys were 

\ once drowned there, having ventured on to 

a narrow bridge, attracted by the rainbow 




colours which are seen in the spray of a 
waterfall. Gothafoss and Dettifoss in the 
north, and TroUafoss (which means the 
" Trolls'," or Fairies' Force), not far from 
Reykjavik, are also fine waterfalls. But 
Gullfoss is about the grandest of all, quite 
the show fall, and I have heard that a 
traveller who had seen both considered 
it almost finer than Niagara ! ^ 

The children of whom I told you at ] 

Thing vellir Parsonage live a little way from ' 

the great Oxara Waterfall. I think when 
they go to other places they will find them 
very silent at first, unless they live near * 

the sea or some great river, for always, ' 

day and night, they hear the roar of this ^ 

great cataract, sometimes louder, some- 
times less, according to the wind and the . 
volume of water, which is, of course, j 
greater after the melting of the snows or 
a rainy season. The Oxara, which means ^ 
"Axe-water," is a large swift-flowing river, i 
which just above Thingvellir takes a J 
sudden leap off the high lava cliff into a | 
pool half-way down the cliff, and then a 
second fall to the lower level of the plain. 




; _-._|^-KEWyork| 



The Waterfalls — Thing vellir 

The clifis and pathways are called Alman- 
nagja — z long and difficult name to say, 
is it not ? The last part of it, gjd, is 
pronounced as if spelt " gyow " in English ; 
the name means "All Men's Rift," because 
in olden days everyone came through it 
to the meeting of the Althing, or Parlia- 
ment, which was held on some broad flat 
rocks near by, called the Hill of Laws. 

Thingvellir (pronounced Thingvetlir) 
means the Fields of Meeting, on account 
of the assembling of the Parliament here. 
The chieftains and great men who came to 
it had booths or tents all round to live in 
while Parliament was sitting ; and near the 
river is the form of a grassy enclosure, 
rather like a sheep-pen, which is called by 
tradition Njal's Booth. It may well have 
been the spot occupied by the wise and 
good old Njal, who, as I told you earlier, 
was burnt in his homestead in revenge for 
his sons' misdeeds. 

The Oxara River runs into a very large 
and beautiful lake, the Thingvellir Water. 
It is quite eight English miles long, and 
spreads far up among the hills. It 

ic 33 5 

Iceland "i 

abounds with beautiful trout, very large 

and of a bright yellow colour, like our * 

char. People who visit Thingvellir 

Parsonage are usually delighted with this 4 

fine fish, which is always served up to the 


Thingvellir Church is a tiny wooden 
building standing on a mound, with 
lovely views through its unstained 
windows. It is very plain inside, as most 
of the Icelandic churches are ; and the 
service seems rather dreary compared with ' 

our own, consisting of a long sermon, 
and some hymns, often pretty, but sung < 

very slowly. The good people come long 
distances over the moors to attend church, ] 

and they tie their ponies together and 
leave them standing outside the building. J 

The ladies slip off their long riding-skirts, 
which they wear over their Sunday dresses, 
and so they go into church. After service i 

there is a great meeting of friends and 
neighbours, and chatting, and, no doubt, 1 

plenty of gossip, and those who have 
ridden far are treated to coflFee and cake 
at the Parsonage. When ready, they all, 


The Waterfalls — Thingvellir 

men and women, collect and saddle their 
ponies ; the ladies resume their habits, 
mount their funny big saddles, generally 
made with a rail to hold by, and away 
go the ponies at a brisk canter over the 

35 5—2 





I THINK it may amuse you to hear some- 
thing about the manners and customs of 
the Iceland people. 

When I speak of " manners," I must 
begin by saying that these are generally ^ 

very good, although not exactly the same 
as our own. Of course many of them 
seem a little rough to us ; but the people 
have what may be called natural good 
manners, and I think this arises from their 
nature being so kindly and simple. Any 
one of them would do his best to help a 
stranger, or show him hospitality, or make 
him understand anything he wanted to 
know. In country or town they seldom 
pass without a salutation — men raise their 
hats to each other as well as to ladies ; 


Manners and Customs 

the men also kiss each other when they are 
near relatives and friends, but this is not 
so universal as it used to be in the past. 
The greetings between parents and child- 
ren are pretty. I have seen a boy, on 
meeting his mother after a short absence, 
carefully rein up his pony beside hers for 
a kiss. After meals it is the custom for 
each person present to shake hands with 
the host, saying, " Thak fyrir mat," which 
means "Thanks for meat"! This seems 
to take the place of saying grace nowadays, 
but in old books you find quite long 
hymns for grace called " board psalms." 
At table, the master of the house and the 
guests sit down, and the ladies of the 
family do all the waiting ; occasionally 
they sit down and partake, but always 
have to rise and go to fetch the next course. 
Sometimes they have their meal quite apart. 
It seems strange at first, and almost uncom- 
fortable for Englishmen to sit still and let 
the hostess do all the work ; but it is the 
custom, even as in the old days when, as 
we read, Njal's wife set meat on the board ; 
and it is like the Eastern custom mentioned 



in the Bible. The women work very hard ; 
1 have seen one cutting grass with a scythe, 
but they more often just make the hay. 
Once, at a farm in the north, I saw a girl 
driving three ponies in front of her, laden 
with hay in soft green bundles tied on 
each side. As they quite hide the pony, 
the effect is most laughable, and you 
would think they were walking hayricks. 
This girl was riding astride a fourth pony 
without any saddle ; she sat very gracefully, 
and quite at her ease. I suppose she had 
brought the hay from some distance. 
When she reached a grassy spot near the 
farm she dismounted, shook all the hay 
bundles down one by one, then jumped 
on to her pony and drove the three hay- 
carriers back to the field. 

The farmers do not sow corn, only 
turnips and potatoes ; and the only harvest 
is the natural hay. It is cut in July and 
August, and in fine weather it soon dries. 
Most of the farms have big wooden barns 
in which to keep their hay. Every 
farmer has a number of ponies, sometimes 
twenty or more ; they do all the work of 



^^^t; ^^ 





Manners and Customs 

the farm. No Icelander walks when he 
can ride ! Wherever they have to go, even 
a short distance, they jump on their handy 
little pony and skim away to their destina- 
tion. The little children begin to ride 
early ; sometimes they are tied on ! The 
women ride at all ages ; quite old women 
must ride if they wish to go from place to 
place. The women's saddles look very 
funny to us ; some are very smartly 
decorated with brass nails, and cushions in 
cross-stitch work. They have a broad foot- 
board, and a nul on the ofF-side, which the 
rider holds to steady herself. Some use 
saddles like our side-saddles of many years 
ago. But whatever they ride on, they are 
hardy and plucky riders, and some of the 
ground they go over would astonish even 
a hunting Englishwoman. A woman will 
ride on a long journey by herself, carrying 
her little bag on her saddle. The funniest 
loads are put on ponies' backs. I have 
met a worthy couple jogging along driving 
a third pony carrying a spinning wheel! 
Ponies carry planks and iron for building, 
tools, provisions, and I have even seen a live 



sheep having a ride ! A piano is carried 
out to the country between two ponies ; 
and sometimes milk or cream is carried in 
tins, in wooden panniers. A great deal of 
cream is now sent to large creameries in 
the country, to be made into butter for 
exportation. At every farm you come to 
you hear the noise of the cream-separator 
going, sometimes half the night. 

I have not told you how we cross the 
rivers. Many of them, though wide, are 
shallow enough to ford on pony-back, 
though you may get feet and skirts a little 
wet, even if you tuck them up behind you 
as far as you can. The ponies tread very 
carefully, and when the current is strong 
they go sideways, like a regiment of 
cavalry, step by step. You have to sit 
tight and let them pick their own way, 
only keeping just behind or beside your 
guide, and giving the pack-ponies a wide 
berth, for they never consider the width of 
their load, either on land or in water, and 
would think nothing of crushing you with 
the boxes ! When the river is too deep 
to ford, riders and their packs and saddles 


Manners and Customs 

are ferried across, and the good little 
ponies swim. They are driven into the 
water with shouts and whip-cracking ; in 
they go, deeper and deeper, blowing like 
grampuses ; at last only their noses are 
visible, till they land on the opposite bank, 
and begin feeding till you come up with 
them. This they are glad to do, and 
fortunately there is always grass near a river. 

Besides the ponies, the farmers keep a 
good many cows, and the cows feed some- 
times far from the farms, and come home 
of themselves to be milked. There are 
also many sheep, and the ewes are driven 
into a square pen to be milked every 
evening. I have seen as many as eighty in 
a pen, and there is just room for a couple 
of girls to go in and milk them one by 
one. I always wonder how they manage 
not to miss any, but they do somehow. 

Fowls are also kept, and usually one 
or two dogs. The Icelandic dogs are 
of the true northern type, the shape of 
the Eskimo, or something like large 
Pomeranians. They are small for sheep- 
dogs, and often very pretty. 

ic 41 6 





** Have the Icelanders any national dress ?'* 
I am often asked. Decidedly they have, 
though the ordinary costume is very plain. 
It consists of a black cloth gown, made 
rather full in the skirt, with a bit of white 
shirt showing in front, a coloured apron, 
a neck-ribbon, and, on Sunday, a pair of 
black kid gloves — nothing more showy 
or attractive, and yet it becomes them ; 
and many of the women are extremely 
handsome. On their heads is always the 
little round hufa — pronounced ** hoo-a " — 
a black woven cap with a long tassel, and 
a silver ornament through which the end 
with the tassel is passed. In cold weather 
a shawl or kerchief is worn over the head, 

Manners and Customs 

as by the Scotch. The hair, which is 
often very fine, is dressed in long pljuts, 
looped up to the head. 

The festival dress is more remarkable. 
A high helmet covered with white muslin, 
from which a long white bridal veil 
depends, and often a golden coronet in 
front, is placed on the head, and the rest 
of the dress may be of flowing muslin, 
silk, or velvet. For out of doors a long 
coloured plush cloak, trimmed with ermine, 
is often worn, and a gold, silver, or em- 
broidered waist-belt, often costly and of 
ancient work, is a great feature of a lady's 

I cannot say that the men have any 
costume at all corresponding, though I 
believe in earlier days there was some 
more distinctive fashion for them than 
there is now. 

The children we find dressed much like 
their fellows here, though there is the 
tendency to put anything young into 
" £cossais " — fancy tartan of wonderful 
shades — that you see in other parts of 
Europe. The girls do not wear the hufa 
43 6—2 


until they are fourteen or older. About 
fifteen, the young people are confirmed ; 
but besides the religious preparation, they 
are required to pass a certain standard in 
reading, writing, and arithmetic. Confirma- 
tion is administered by the priest in the 
Lutheran Church, not by the Bishop, as 
with us. The baptismal service seems 
very like our own. In old times the 
babies wore a sort of mitre-shaped em- 
broidered cap with the christening robe, 
but I never saw it at any christening at 
which I was present. 

Needlework is a great feature of 
Icelandic industry. Nearly all the women 
are good workers ; some embroider most 
beautifully, and they also knit a great deal. 
At every farm you find sheets prettily 
marked by hand, often embroidered. If 
you are asked out to tea — or, more 
correctly, chocolate and coffee — the spoons 
are always brought in a silver basket, 
reposing on a prettily-worked d'oyley. 
Chocolate of a very fine quality, sweet 
and creamy, is handed round first, with 
a variety of cakes ; after that comes the 







Manners and Customs 

cofFee. I have never seen tea-tables more 
daintily laid than in Iceland. 

Some of the arrangements in the farms 
are curious to our ideas. My travelling 
companion and I once shared a bedroom 
at the top of an old farm-house : we were 
entertained by the cackling of hens and 
crowing of cocks most of the time, and 
in the morning discovered that they were 
roosting on the loft landing outside. 
When my friend went downstairs to 
breakfast, a lordly cock fluttered down 
after her with much clamour ! Another 
time we had to pass to our room through 
a large dormitory used by the children 
and some of the servants. A woman was 
putting some little ones to bed as we 
went by. Unfortunately the kitchen fire 
smoked dreadfully, and in the old Icelandic 
kitchen the fire is in the middle of the 
room, and the smoke goes out by the 
roof. Whether from this or no, the poor 
children coughed the whole night long, 
first one and then another, but there was 
not a cry or whine, though none of the 
women seemed to take any notice of the 



poor litde people. We did not enjoy 
unbroken sleep, but our consolation was 
that the children's ailment was not 
whooping-cough 1 

The Icelanders as a people are very 
musical, though there are many difficulties 
in the way of transit for instruments. A 
harmonium is generally found in a par- 
sonage, also in the churches. Some of 
the pastors are really good musicians, and 
play a great deal. The girls, too, are 
often first-rate pianists, and they not un- 
frequently play the guitar. As yet the 
violin has not been taken up as a female 
accomplishment, though there is a string 
band in the town. . 

But they can sing, both men and 
women ; the latter have often good voices, 
and almost the finest baritone I ever heard 
belongs to a young Icelandic doctor, who 
can sing songs in German, Swedish, 
Danish, English, and Norwegian, besides 
the lovely and often pathetic melodies of 
his own land. 

Painting is not so universal, though 
there are two professionals and one amateur 



in Reykjavik whose pictures often attain 
to a high level of merit. Sculpture was 
formerly represented only by the world- 
famed Thorvaldsen, who was bom at sea, 
of Icelandic parentage; but a successor 
has lately arisen in a young man from the 
country named Einar Jonsson. He has 
a studio in Copenhagen, and has produced 
some very fine statuary already. The 
best known is called *' The Outlaw," and 
represents a poor, wild-looking man of 
olden times, carrying his dead wife strapped 
on his back and his little boy asleep on 
his arm. He is supposed to be taking his 
wife to bury her in consecrated ground, 
but as he is outlawed and would be put 
to death if he were seen, he must come 
at night and in secret. He carries a spade 
in his hand, and seems to be hurrying 
fast down a hill. His face is full of grief, 
and fear, and suspicion as he looks out ; 
his faithful dog walks by his side, also 
watching for an enemy. 

This statue stands at present in the 
entrance hall of the Reykjavik Museum* 




You will have noticed that an Icelander's 
surname always ends in ** son." That is 
very like our English names, but in the 
case of the Icelander the name is what is 
called a patronymic — the name of his 
father — and may change with every genera- 
tion. Thus, suppose a man is christened 
Jon (John), and he calls his son Pall (Paul) ; 
the son would be called Pall Jonsson. 
But if Pall grew up and had a son, he 
might very likely wish to name him after 
his father ; thus the child would be Jon 
Palsson. Sometimes the son bears his 
father*s Christian name, and then he would 
be Jonsson. I know a man called Magnus 
M agnusson, and he told me his ancestors 
had been Magnus Magnussons for many 




^ Names — Language 

many generations. You would think it 

' would be very puzzling to trace their 

pedigrees, but they do not find it so. 

'f Many families can trace their line back 

quite to the saga times. 

But what about the girls ? They are 
called Palsdottir (Paul's daughter), Jons- 
dottir, as the case may be. Whenever 

^ you ask the name of a man or woman, you 

are given the Christian name only ; if you 
want to know more, you must say " Hvers 

^ son ?'' (Whose son ?) or " Hvers dottir .?" 

Sometimes when girls go abroad to live 

^ they add the " son " to their father's name, 

and use it for a surname, as '* daughter " 
would seem strange. A married woman 
in Iceland is usually given her patronymic 
as well as her husband's name ; for instance, 

i' "Fru [Mrs.] Margr^t Thordardottir 

Sigurdsson," is the daughter of Thord and 

I husband of Sigurdsson. There are only 

one or two old family surnames in Iceland, 

j but they are quite the exception. 

f They have pretty little abbreviations to 

their names : a girl whose name is Sigrid 
will be called Sigga ; Gunna is used for 
ic 49 7 


Guthrun ; with men Toggi stands for 
Thorgrim, Siggi for Sigurd, Brynki for 
Brynjulf, and Manki (which sounds very 
like " Monkey ") for Magnus. 

They use all the old historic and heroic 
names still ; and it is funny to see on the 
shop-doors names which you have hitherto 
associated only with the chieftains and 
great men of the sagas now borne by your 
bootmaker and watchmaker. 

Now I. should like to tell you something 
rather curious about the Icelandic language. 
They use our alphabet, but have two extra 
letters — for the sounds of the th and dh. 
Perhaps you know that a Frenchman or 
German will have difficulty in pronouncing 
our "the," because he has no th sound 
in his language. The Icelander, on the 
other hand, pronounces th just as we do. 
Now, we had these two extra letters long 
ago, and they are found in old Anglo- 
Saxon writings ; but while we have kept 
the sound, we now use two letters instead 
of one, while the Icelanders keep both 
sound and letters. Th before a word is 
written with a letter rather like a p^ called 


b Names — Language 

thorn ; and M, as in ** with," is written 
I with a cross-tailed d^ called ** pierced ^." 

' In English writing now you have to use th 

1*^ in Icelandic names to represent the crossed 

d. There are a great many words in 
^ Icelandic exactly the same as ours ; for 

instance, lamb, egg, salt, land ; and many 
others nearly the same. This is all because 
^ — though I think few English people know 

anything about it — the Icelandic tongue is 
the original, or what is called the parent 
language of our own, besides that of the 
I Danish, Norwegian, and some others. At 

^ first all the Northern nations spoke the same 

language, which was called Norse — and 
t the Northmen were constantly over in 

Great Britain — the Icelanders and Nor- 
wegians as well as Danes. In our case 
and that of the Northern nations of 
Europe, the interchange, whether in peace 
i or war, with those from the South caused 

a great blending and changing of language 
[ as years passed on. Iceland, on the other 

hand, being so far out in the sea, and so 
little visited by other nations, has kept the 
primitive old language almost exactly as it 
51 7—2 

Iceland j 

was spoken in the saga times. And that 

is why it is of such interest to those who 

study our own and kindred languages ; 

besides being rich in the grand old histories, '^ 

which Icelanders can still read as easily as 

if they were written quite lately. i 

In the north-east of Scotland, where the 
Norsemen are known to have left most 
impression, a great many of the words used "^ 

are distinctly Icelandic, as well as the 

The voices and accent of the Icelandic 
people are soft and pretty, and they use 
many endearments of speech among them- 1 

selves and to their children. 





The chief industrial works of Iceland are 
carving, spinning, and weaving. The long 
winter evenings give time for these, and 
the men are very clever with their fingers. 
A strong, useful kind of cloth called 
"vadmal" is made in the native looms. 
There are both steam and water power 
looms, but in the country the old hand- 
loom weavers may still be seen at work. 

The chief exports are ponies, fish, and 
butter, which last, as I told you, is made 
at the diflFerent district creameries, to which 
the farmers send their separated cream. 

At every town or village by the sea the 

fishing industry is apparent. The chief 

catches are cod and halibut. These are 

taken in countless numbers, washed, dried, 



salted, stacked in heaps by the shore, and 
mostly exported to Spain, though a certain 
amount is consumed in the country. It 
is funny to see the fish-women at work. 
You can often watch them, some dozen or 
more, at a large tank close by the sea ; 
they have strong waterproof aprons, and 
long, thick woollen mits or gloves, and they 
wash and scrape and salt the great flat 
split fish day after day. All the shore is 
white with rows of the fish drying before 
it is stacked or sent away. The fishermen 
go out in spring, like our own ; the sea 
and weather are often very rough, and 
many poor fellows have been lost at sea. 

The French and English send a number 
of trawlers to Icelandic waters, but they 
are not allowed to come beyond a certain 
limit, or they would destroy the poor 
Icelanders' means of living. A Danish 
gunboat is nearly always about the coasts 
to watch the fishing-ground, and England 
sends a man-of-war every year for a time 
in our own interests, to see fair play for 
our trawlers. Sometimes these have been 
driven on the bleak rocky shores and 

Industries and Exports — Birds 

shipwrecked, and the sailors have wandered 
about until they chanced to meet with a 
kind Iceland farmer, who has taken them 
home and fed and sheltered them till they 
could get away. There have been several 
instances of this, and in all cases of distress 
the Icelanders are kind and humane and 
helpful, as far as their often small means 
will allow ; and they send the strangers 
long distances with men and ponies, even 
when the winter travelling is hard and 
dangerous, to enable them to get to the 
seashore and embark once more for 

The poor little ponies! I have told 
you how important and useful they are in 
their own country, yet hundreds of them 
are shipped away every year to England 
or Scotland, and to Denmark. Some, we 
hope, get happy homes, as they are bought 
for ladies and children to ride and drive, 
for which their docility and patience render 
them most suitable. Many go straight to 
the mines, and so spend their lives far 
from the light of day. What a change 
from their free, wide pastures and bright 



skies and rushing rivers I I have often 
seen a great troop of ponies, driven along 
the road like sheep, destined for shipment ; 
and I have travelled in a steamer with 
several hundred on board down in the 
hold. When the voyage is good I do not 
think they sufFer much, but in rough 
weather many are injured and perish. 
When it is calm it is pretty to see them 
having their daily rations of hay and water ; 
the latter is passed along a hose when 
there are great numbers to satisfy. The 
Danish sailors are very kind to them ; 
they are fond of animals, and they love 
having a little dog or kitten to play with 
on board ship. The Iceland cats are a 
pretty bluey grey, with short thick fur. 
Visitors to the island sometimes buy 
kittens to take home. I have often 
seen various pets acquired after a trip in 
Iceland — Arctic foxes, the dark grey so 
much valued for furs ; a woolly Iceland 
puppy, like a little bear ; and a pair of 
young ravens. The latter could not have 
much enjoyed their voyage in a wooden 
packing-case, from which on occasions 









Industries and 'Exports — Birds 

came dolorous croaks and protruding 
beaks. There are many ravens in the 
country — huge black birds, which stalk 
about the moors and look at you as you 
pass. I have also seen a fine eagle more 
than once, sitting on a rock. The wild 
swans are frequently seen when travelling, 
and look beautiful floating on a wide 
lonely lake, or flying across the sky, with 
their wild harsh " song," which is praised 
by one of the Icelandic poets. There are 
many seals about the sea-coast, and I have 
seen one sunning itself on a rock below 
. the path which our party were traversing. 
People often shoot the seals, and their 
skins, cured, can be bought in Reykjavik 
at the shops. 

We do not hear our singing-birds in 
Iceland, but there are a great many moor 
and water birds which you meet with 
as you travel about — ptarmigan, golden 
plover, and a dear little bird which seems 
to be everywhere on the heaths and plains, 
the curlew, which the Icelanders call " spoi." 
Go where you will, it is ten to one you 
see a curlew standing on any little pro- 
ic 57 8 


minent rock or mound, making its long 
curious " kirriwirriwirri " trill. 

Near the sea, of course, are all kinds 
of gull, and tern, and puffin, and oyster- 
catchers ; and the great northern diver is 
a more rare, though not uncommon, 
inhabitant of the island. 




surtur's cave 

I AM now going to tell you a little about 
some wonderful caves in Iceland, in parti- 
cular one called Surtshellir, or Surtur's 
Cave. Surtur is the name of a giant in 
Icelandic mythology ; he is supposed to be 
the fire giant, and is also called the world's 
destroyer. I think one can easily imagine 
the dwellers in such a volcanic land as 
Iceland believing that the eruptions of 
their mountains were caused by powerful 
unseen beings in the depths of the earth. 

" Hellir " is the Icelandic word for a cave, 
and as double / is nearly always sounded as 
dl or //, it is pronounced ** hedlir." I have 
crossed a long, vast tract of country which 
is called the Hellisheithi, or " Heath of the 
Caves." The ground is all rocky — bleak 
59 8—2 


grey gnarled rocks — ^and ever and anon is 
an underground opening like a low cave. 
In the CalPs Peaks Hill, of which I told 
you, is a large deep cave, which people 
often go to see as they pass, and I am 
sorry to say also often cut their names in 
the soft stone of the cave*s mouth. That 
has always been considered a fault of the 
British tourist in particular^ but I fear there 
are Icelandic names and initials to be seen 
here as well. Along the south coast, too, 
I have seen beautiful large caves used as 
stables and store-houses for hay — one with 
different levels of stone floors, exactly as 
if made by men. 

But I must come to the big cave of 
Surtur, which is up in the north-west 
district of the country, or, rather, perhaps, 
the central west, but several days' journey 
north of Reykjavik. When I went to see 
it, I stayed at a &rm called Kalmannstunga. 
We had a rather long ride before we 
arrived there; so we rested, and started, 
leaving our luggage and spare ponies 
behind, in the evening. 

A wild but pretty ride beside a rushing 

i Surtur's Cave 

river brought us at last to the plain where 
r the great cave is. To find the right 

opening to enter requires some search by 
r an e^cpert guide, but ours soon found it 

— looking rather like the arched entrance 
j^ to an underground railway. To get down 

to it you must scramble over immense 

rocks and boulders, and when you get to 
f the bottom, you find the floor of the cave 

covered with snow and ice. Each person 
^ going in carries a lighted candle, as it soon 

^ becomes too dark to see your way. Inside, 

the cave is one huge long passage, and you 
^- could fancy it a gallery full of statues, 

but the figures are really fi-ozen pillars of 
^ snow and ice, and enormous icicles of 

drip hang from the vaulted roof; these 

last are called stalactites, and the pillars 
^ on the ground are stalagmites. Going 

further in, there is a screen of bars of 
^^ ice, upright and regular ; if someone goes 

behind it with a light, it appears like a 

shrine in a cathedral. The passage goes 
^ on far, far underground ; no one has ever 

i explored the hundredth part of the caves 

f* in this wonderful district. It is said that 



in olden days outlaws and wild robbers 
lived in Surtshellir ; if so, they must have 
had a cold lodging, for the snow can never 
melt there. A modern Icelandic poet has 
written a play called " The Cavemen," in 
which some valiant champions are sup- 
posed to dwell in the cave of Surtur. 

When I was in Switzerland I went to 
see another curious cave in an ice-field 
called the Morteratsch Glacier. The walls 
were solid ice, several feet thick, which 
had been cut out by men's hands, just 
to show the depth of the ice-crust. 
It was very wonderful, too, and it was 
lighted by electric light ; but it was to 
Surtshellir as a little lake to the mighty 

When our party had seen enough of 
the caves, we walked and scrambled back 
to daylight — or, rather, twilight — and our 
ponies. There were four, and they had 
been left quite alone all the time we were 
in the cave ; but they had not moved, 
because they were standing side by side, 
yet head to tail, the bridle of one tied to 
the crupper of its companion, two and two. 

Surtur's Cave 

In this simple way you can leave ponies 
* safely for hours ; they cannot stray, as 

one of the pair would always have to walk 
i backward. 

When we rode back to our farm the 
j^ moon was shining brightly, and the snow 

hills around looked most beautiful in its 

calm light. 
f A curious sight I once saw on the south 

coast of Iceland was a house built against 
^ a rock, which had some natural caves in 

■ it. It stood quite away from the cliiF in 

a flat plain ; the wooden walls and windows 
k of the dwelling were laid against the rock, 

and one of the bedrooms, I believe, had to 
^ be reached by means of ropes. 

Among the " jokuUs," or ice-fields, are 
. some very wild and barren plains and rocky 

f regions. Many of these have not been 

explored at all, some of them only by 
k*^ very bold and intrepid travellers; usually 

these have been Englishmen, for the 

people of Great Britain, as you know, are 
f famous for their enterprise in exploring 

other lands than their own. 

The longest and dreariest journey I 




have ever made was between some of the 
ice-fields near the Surtshellir Plain — this Ok, 
Geitlands, and Eiriksjokulls. The road 
we went was called Kaldidalur, which 
means **Cold Dale/' and certainly it is a 
descriptive name. But though it was so 
wild, I have pleasant recollections of the 
journey, for we enjoyed it, though we 
were not sorry when it came to an end. 

We left Kalmannstunga in the morning, 
and began by crossing a partly dry, stony 
river-bed, and here I remember seeing 
some pretty purple flowers, a sort of flag, 
growing among the loose stones. After 
climbing a hill, we got on the track — dry 
and stony, and raised, while on each side 
of us was a deep wide valley, and then 
the jokull. When the sun shone out, the 
snow on the ice-banks was a most lovely 
colour, blue where it was half melting, or 
white or grey, but always so cold. I 
remember we had a sharp hailstorm while 
we pressed on. The hailstones really cut 
our faces, but we were wearing regular 
seamen's souVesters, and we buried our 
faces under the brims and let our good 





Surtur's Cave 

ponies find their own way. But the storm 
was soon over. For five hours we had 
to jog along, for there was no grass for 
the poor beasts, so we could not linger ; 
but we were all glad when at length some 
grass was visible, where we spread our- 
selves out to picnic and rest. Some 
travellers going northwards met us here ; 
one, a friend from Reykjavik, hailed me 
cheerily ; it was such a surprise, and we 
chatted for a time. But with this excep- 
tion we did not see a soul till, late in the 
evening, we descended into a valley where 
was a haymaker — solitary at first, but we 
saw others further on. That night we 
were bound for Thingvellir. Never was 
I more pleased to recognize in the far 
distance the dark cliffs of the ^reat Rift, 
with its one white break of the Oxara fall, 
telling us we were near our hospitable 
lodging and the end of our long lonely 

ic 65 




The goyemment of Iceland is carried on 
by the Parliament, or Althing, which sits 
in Reykjavik, and has an Upper and a 
Lower House. The head of it is now called 
the Minister ; he carries the measures 
passed by the Althing to Copenhagen, to 
be ratified by the Danish Gk>vernment. 
He lives part of the year in Iceland and 
part in Denmark. Formerly there was a 
Governor of Iceland at the head of affairs. 
The country districts are each under a 
Sysselman, or sheriff^ who transacts local 
business ; the villages and parishes have a 
constable, or Hreppstjori, to attend to lesser 
matters and keep order. 

There is one bishop in Reykjavik, and 


^ The Hospital 

several clergy connected with the cathedral ; 

[ but out in the country one priest or pastor 

often has to serve two churches very far 
apart, so that each church cannot have very 

\ many or frequent services. 

I I have not told you that there is a large 

[ hospital on the shores of the bay not far 

^ from Reykjavik. It is called the Leper 

HospitaL From early times there have 
been cases of leprosy in the island ; and of 

I - course it was very difficult to do anything 

to help the poor lepers when there was no 
suitable place to which to take them, to keep 

[ them away from .other persons. So some 

kind people belonging to an Order called the 

[ GoodTemplars, in Denmark, joined together 

to build a large hospital, with everything 
that is necessary to make sick people com- 

! , fortable and as happy as they can be, though 

I the illness can never be cured. They have 

I beautiful rooms, and a chapldn and a 

doctor, and kind skilled nurses to attend 
to them ; and it is hoped by this means 

' that the terrible disease will be stamped 

out — which means that when the poor sick 

r folk are kept away by themselves all their 

67 9 — 2 


lives, there will be no more cases of leprosy. 
The conditions of living are improving too^ 
and the inhabitants are beginning to learn 
more of what is called sanitation — that is, 
the laws by which people are kept clean 
and healthy, and free from infectious dis- 

Some years ago, when Iceland was 
poorer than it is now, and living was very 
hard, a great many of the inhabitants 
emigrated to America, and there is near 
Winnipeg a large colony founded by them. 
I believe all the emigrants do well, because 
Icelanders are hardy and industrious, and 
not used to easy lives at home. But now 
that times are better they regret that so 
many have left the old country, and are 
turning their attention rather to improving 
things at home. 

There are two large green islands in the 
bay of Reykjavik opposite the town, called 
Vithey and Engey. Vithey belongs all to 
one young farmer, who has a pretty house 
and a big dairy, thirty cows, and lives there 
with his family and servants. There is a 


curious little old church on Vithey, where 
there is an ancient custom of leaving the 
door always open to let the birds fly in and 
out. But Engey is the home of the eider- 
duck, and the two farmers who live on it 
pay their rent in the down from the birds - 
nests. In June the young are hatched, 
and the down is then taken from each nest, 
leaving enough for the young birds. It is 
very curious to walk along the grassy 
mounds ; each hollow between them con- 
tains a nest The mother-ducks are 
wonderfully tame, and only move a little 
way off while one collects the spare soft 
down which lines the nest : this is only 
taken if the young are hatched. Before 
the collector of the down leaves the nest 
he must be careful to see that the poor 
little fledglings are safely tucked in. The 
mother-bird soon goes back to them and 
keeps them warm. When the down is col- 
lected it is spread out to dry in the sun and 
wind, and then put up in bags for sale. 

I have now told you about the principal 
features of Iceland, but of course there is a 




great deal more that might be said. I 
hope that what I have been able to describe 
may awaken your interest in this wonderful 
land, which perhaps some of you may one 
day go and explore for yourselves.